Mammary adipocyte flow cytometry as a tool to study mammary gland biology.
The mammary gland is a vital exocrine organ that has evolved in mammals to secrete milk and provide nutrition to ensure the growth and survival of the neonate The mouse mammary gland displays extraordinary plasticity each time the female undergoes pregnancy and lactation, including a sophisticated process of tertiary branching and alveologenesis to form a branched epithelial tree and subsequently milk-producing alveoli. Upon the cessation of lactation, the gland remodels back to a simple ductal architecture via highly regulated involution processes. At the cellular level, the plasticity is characterised by proliferation of mammary cell populations, differentiation and apoptosis, accompanied by major changes in cell function and morphology. The mammary epithelium requires a specific stromal environment to grow, known as the mammary fat pad. Mammary adipocytes are one of the most prominent cell types in the fat pad, but despite their vast proportion in the tissue and their crucial interaction with epithelial cells, their physiology remains largely unknown. Over the past decade, the need to understand the properties and contribution of mammary adipocytes has become more recognised. However, the development of adequate methods and protocols to study this cellular niche is still lagging, partially due to their fragile nature, the difficulty of isolating them, the lack of reliable cell surface markers and the heterogenous environment in this tissue, which differs from other adipocyte depots. Here, we describe a new rapid and simple flow cytometry protocol specifically designed for the analysis and isolation of mouse mammary adipocytes across mammary gland developmental stages.